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Local News

Ukiah Police facing another accusation of beating an unarmed man

A pinkish building with a courtyard. A sign above the main doorway, which is curved, reads UKIAH CIVIC CENTER. Other signs indicate the police department.
Ukiah Civic Center and Police station.

Arturo Valdes and his family are suing the City of Ukiah, the police department, and three officers in federal court over a beating they say took place days before the Magdaleno beating.

July 12, 2022 — The Ukiah Police Department is going to federal court again, with officers accused of brutalizing another unarmed man. The latest allegation involves a beating that took place at a private residence just a few days before officers beat Gerardo Magdaleno, a naked, mentally ill man in a South Ukiah parking lot. The City settled that case for $211,000, plus attorneys’ fees of approximately $92,500, according to Izaak Schwaiger, Magdaleno’s attorney.

The Valdes complaint, filed in the Northern California US District Court two months ago, claims that on March 28 of last year, Officer Eric Rodello held Arturo Valdes while Sergeant Ronald Donahue punched him in the face, causing multiple injuries that continue to interfere with his ability to breathe through his nose. Rodello and Donohue were not among the four officers caught on camera beating Magdaleno.

According to the Ukiah Police email directory, there are currently 28 members of the Ukiah Police force (counting two community services officers and a property officer, but not counting the dispatch and records manager and the dispatch supervisor.) Two officers and a sergeant are listed in the Valdes complaint. Three officers, a lieutenant, and former Chief Justin Wyatt were named in the Magdaleno beating. (Wyatt was not present at the beating, but was faulted for lack of leadership and training.) Former Chief Noble Waidelich is being investigated for an allegation of assault and is facing a domestic violence trial. Former Sergeant Kevin Murray, who recently pled no contest to felony intimidation and misdemeanor false imprisonment, is facing criminal sentencing in August and a civil complaint by former UPD Officer Isabel Siderakis. In all, ten members of the Ukiah Police force have been implicated in violence in the past year and a half.

The fourteen-count complaint also lists Valdes’ wife Elizabeth and the couple’s two small children as plaintiffs, saying Rodello and Donahue and a third officer, Daniel Parker, handcuffed Elizabeth Valdes and placed her in the back of a police car with the windows rolled up. According to the complaint, officers told her she would lose custody of her children if she declined to provide them with information about a ‘fender bender’ that took place earlier that day in the parking lot of the Ross department store.

Richard Middlebrook, a Bakersfield attorney who is representing the Valdes family, says there was no injury or property damage in the minor collision, and that Valdes gave the other party his driver's license and insurance information. According to Middlebrook, the other person refused to return the license, and Valdes went home. Police officers retrieved the license from the other person, and came to the Valdes residence a little after 7 pm.

In Middlebrook’s account, the officers asked Arturo Valdes if he had been involved in a hit and run, which Valdes denied. “There was no hit and run, because in order to have a hit and run, you have to have damage which you refuse to take responsibility for or leave information about,” Middlebrook argued. He said the officers told Valdes that they could smell alcohol, and that Valdes was on probation for a prior DUI. The complaint states that at the time of the arrest, Valdes was no longer on probation. Middlebrook said officers told him he was required to take a breath test, and Valdes did not argue.

But now, Arturo Valdes is being prosecuted by the Mendocino County District Attorney’s office

for driving under the influence, child endangerment, and resisting arrest. Middlebrook says it’s impossible to prove whether or not Valdes was under the influence at the time of the collision (when police believe the children were in the car), because officers met him at his home some time afterwards. And he’s skeptical about claims that Valdes was resisting arrest, because he says his client wasn’t being arrested when the beating took place.

“They said, ‘you’re not under arrest,’ multiple times,” Middlebrook reported. “And then said, you’re not entitled to speak to a lawyer, since you’re not under arrest. That is a flagrant lie, and a misstatement of almost every bit of case law ever, involving the right to speak to an attorney.”

Describing the video (which we have not viewed), Middlebrook said Donahue began to walk to the front door of the residence, while Arturo Valdes walked toward the garage. He said then, the officers grabbed Valdes by the arms. “When the officer comes up and grabs him from behind, my client turns around and pulls his arm away and says, ‘What are you doing? Am I under arrest? Am I being detained?’ He said, ‘You’re being detained.’ And he said, ‘Why am I being detained?’ And they grab him, throw him face-first into his own car, then throw him to the ground, hold him down, and beat him.”

Middlebrook says the officers falsified the arrest report, which is easily proven by the fact that their statements are contradicted by Ring cameras at the Valdes residence. “One of my concerns in this case from the beginning,” he said, “is that these officers will testify according to what they wrote in their police report, when we know that their police report is fraudulent.” This, he said, could cause legal problems in court, “if they answered questions that incriminated them criminally, that they could be prosecuted for those answers.”

He said the officers found a way around that, at a recent preliminary hearing, when he asked Donahue, “‘How many times did you strike my client in my face in order to break five bones in his face?’ At that time, he said, ‘I’m going to take the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination, and I refuse to answer the question.’” According to Middlebrook, Rodello likewise stated that he planned to plead the Fifth, which “throws a huge monkey wrench into this whole criminal case,” because if the officers don’t testify under cross-examination, prior testimony is likely to be thrown out. “If you can’t or will not answer questions under cross-examination in the case, and the entire testimony is then removed, there is no evidence against my client whatsoever, and the case will be dismissed,” he predicted.

Deputy District Attorney Heidi Larson did not return an email asking questions about the case, specifically the implications of Middlebrook’s account of the sergeant’s testimony.

There will be another hearing in The People vs Valdes on August 19th. Deputy Ukiah City Manager Shannon Riley said she was in meetings all day yesterday and was not able to provide information about the case in time to meet our deadline.

The civil suit that the Valdes family is bringing against the city of Ukiah, the police department and the three is just getting started. Charges against the city include willful negligence that allows for multiple instances of expensive police misconduct.

“It’s rampant,” Middlebrook said. “It’s overwhelming. Almost one-third of the officers have had civil rights violations lawsuits filed against them in the last year and a half alone. I’ve never heard of anything like that in any other department…not only when there’s smoke there’s fire. This is when there’s fire there’s fire. You see the whole police department burning down. At some point, it’s systemic. It goes from the top down.”

Local News
Sarah Reith came to Mendocino County in 2008 and worked as a reporter and freelancer, joining KZYX as a community news reporter in 2017. She became the KZYX News Director in March, 2023.